Q: In digging up my dahlias this fall for wintering, I found they grew into large clumps of bulbs almost as big as a soccer ball. Do I break them apart for storage, or leave them as they are? I usually pack them in sand for the winter. - Roger Christianson, Fargo. A: Dahlias are best separated in the fall before storage, cutting the stem apart so each tuberous root has at least one bud, or "eye," located where the stem meets the tuber-like structure. If clumps are broken apart without cutting, the tuberous roots often end up without an eye.
Martha Stewart's Christmas gift list once again includes items "perfect for the gardener on your holiday list." Topping the list is a pair of gold-plated earrings in the shape of large, dangling string beans for $125. I'll try not to look disappointed, but what I really want is a new pruner instead. It's fun to give Christmas gifts that you'd enjoy receiving yourself. Most gardeners would appreciate unique gifts that are sturdy and useful. In past years, my suggestions for gardeners have focused on things found locally.
Mother Nature didn't make houseplants. Even the Bible doesn't mention creation of indoor plants. God never said on the sixth day "Let there be houseplants." No, all houseplants originated outdoors, native somewhere in the world before humans decided they'd look nice indoors. Many plants of tropical or desert origin have adapted well to sharing living space with humans. But just because they're nestled comfortably indoors doesn't mean houseplants are immune from attacks by insects and diseases. Here are some guidelines for keeping houseplants pest-free:
Q: I don't have a question, but had an experience with a tomato plant I thought might be of interest. I'm a long-time gardener, and this year in late May I bought one six-inch tomato plant from Kmart. The Bonnie Plants label said early maturing, but I had no idea it would yield so many - 357 good eating-size tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes)! This was such an unusual plant, I just wanted to share the story. - Nancy Otto, Moorhead
Have you ever noticed that people who enjoy gardening are passionate about their pastime, to put it mildly? Why else would they roam around outdoors in the dark with flashlight in hand covering tomatoes with bedsheets and blankets on frosty nights? Why else do summer vacations revolve around finding someone to water the front planters? People who've caught gardening fever rarely let a little thing like winter spoil their fun. Houseplants obviously are a great gardening pastime for the off-season. But sometimes it's fun to try something different, like the following ideas.
Q: We've got several plants of Karl Foerster ornamental grass in our landscape. Should they be cut back in the fall? - Bob Larson, Bismarck, N.D. A: Ornamental grasses winter best with their tops left intact, without cutting back in the fall. The tops catch snow, which provides good insulation against frigid cold. Many of these ornamental grasses have decorative seed heads that add interest to winter landscapes and attract birds to nibble seed.
It's the phrase that caused panic to every high school student: Close your books and take out a sheet of paper. Based on reader responses, our garden quizzes are more fun and much less stressful than locating Mozambique on a classroom map of Africa. Our latest quiz questions can be answered with a few short words. Oh, and keep your eyes on your own paper. Questions 1. Do freshly dug vegetable like carrots and potatoes store better washed or unwashed? 2. Is it true that late-season apples become sweeter if left on the tree until frost?
Q: My wife and I had an abundant crop of carrots from our garden this summer. The braided ones in the photo were the most unusual. I wonder what makes them want to do that? - Vern Goodin, Moorhead A: Your carrot photo is fascinating. I've seen plenty of forked carrots and twisted carrots, but I don't think I've ever seen a clump braided so neatly together. From the photo, it looks like five carrots neatly intertwined.
You'd think gardeners who are passionate about their lawns, flowerbeds and landscapes would be weeping hysterically at season's end. But there's an unspoken gardening truth that we quietly acknowledge. We relish the growing season with gusto, but we're secretly OK with it pausing for a while. The key word is pause, not end. We might be resting from weeding, mulching and mowing, but our minds are already planning to make next year's tomato crop the best ever, and we need the eye-popping perennial we saw on last summer's garden tour.
Q: I purchased two dipladenia plants this spring. How well do they overwinter indoors? - Nicole Welsch, Fargo. A: Dipladenia, and its close relative mandevilla, can be wintered successfully indoors and then returned outdoors next spring. We enjoy wintering several each year, and they aren't difficult if given full, direct, bright sunshine in front of a large, sunny window. Before bringing indoors, wash the plants with the garden hose to reduce tag-along insects. Plants can be pruned if they've grown large and repotted now or next spring.